Starting with Teeth
Oral health begins with watching your sugar intake.

Everyone wants a beautiful smile. But despite the perfect teeth we see in movies, we’re actually facing a national epidemic in oral health. And as our grandmothers have told us, eating sweets really is the quickest way to get cavities.

Tooth decay is the most prevalent chronic disease in the United States: by age 11, 51% of children have had a cavity in their baby teeth and by age 65, 95% of adults have had decay in their permanent teeth. The World Health Organization has declared tooth decay and dental disease a major global concern. If any other body part decayed the way teeth do, would we really accept that as being okay? 

The science clearly links dental caries (cavities) to repeated exposure to sugars.1

Here’s what’s happening: Our mouths are naturally full of bacteria. When we bathe our teeth in sugars – particularly through sticky, sweet foods or drinking sweetened drinks throughout the day – the sugars feed the bacteria, which produce acids as a waste product. That acid slowly breaks down the tooth enamel, which forms a cavity. The more often the tooth is exposed to that acid, the worse it gets.

In some, that’s a life-or-death issue. In 2007, the dental community was horrified to hear about the 12-year-old boy in Maryland whose untreated toothache led to a bacterial infection in his brain and, ultimately, his death. Two years later, a 24-year-old father in Cincinnati also died from a tooth infection, because he couldn’t afford antibiotics to treat it.

What is most discouraging is that tooth decay is completely preventable, largely by making sure that you limit your teeth’s exposure to sugar throughout the day. It’s what our grandmothers told us. And in this case, they were absolutely right.

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. Website:

SugarScience Glossary


Sugars are chemicals made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen found which taste sweet and are found in food. They are an important part of what we eat and drink and of our bodies. On this site, sugar is used to mean simple sugars (monosaccharides) like fructose or glucose, and disaccharides like table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is two simple sugars stuck together for example (see Table sugar). Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are energy sources for our bodies Sugars enter the blood stream very quickly after being eaten.

SugarScience Glossary

SugarScience is the authoritative source for evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health.

Cristin E. Kearns, DDS, MBA

Cristin E. Kearns, DDS, MBA, is an Assistant Professor, UCSF School of Dentistry, Division of Oral Epidemiology & Dental Public Health and Core Faculty member at the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies.

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